South Africa-Rwanda diplomatic spat deepens

Tensions remains high as South Africa and Rwanda appear unwilling to mend deteriorating relations after both countries expelled diplomats. The EastAfrican Graphic  

Tensions remain high as South Africa and Rwanda appear unwilling to mend deteriorating relations after both countries expelled diplomats in the wake of an attempted hit on an exiled former Rwandan army commander in Johannesburg.

On February 28, South Africa expelled three Rwandan diplomats accusing them of operating killing squads to hunt down Rwandan dissidents while Rwanda expelled six South African diplomats “in reciprocity and concern at South Africa’s harbouring of dissidents responsible for terrorist attacks in Rwanda.” (Read: Rwanda expels six SA diplomats in revenge)

Earlier this week, South African Justice Minister Jeff Radebe said that his country does not intend to cut ties with Kigali, but there are signals that the diplomatic spat is far from over.

Not only do the two countries remain at loggerheads with no attempt at reconciliatory talks but they also failed to agree on their respective issues of concern.

Kigali maintains that South Africa should first address illegal activities of Rwandan fugitives on its soil, an accusation that Pretoria appears to disregard.

Rwanda’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Louise Mushikiwabo remained defiant this week, saying that South Africa cannot continue protecting Rwandan “fugitives” if it wants to pursue good diplomacy.

“South Africa expelling law-abiding Rwandan diplomats was simply wrong and Rwanda has every right to reciprocate… Rwandan fugitives continue to engage in terrorist acts back home. Despite repeated promises from Pretoria, the problem is unresolved,” Minister Mushikiwabo said on her Twitter handle.

Kigali accuses Rwandans in South Africa who have since been granted political asylum, including former army chief Lt Gen Kayumba Nyamwasa, of plotting to destabilise the country.

But the former allies of President Paul Kagame say they are merely opposing the “dictatorial regime” in Kigali and deny any involvement in terror activities.

“Rwanda has provided all the evidence of the allegations (against its dissidents) to South Africa which has not been taken seriously. At some point South Africa had planned to relocate them, which is better than having them on its soil,” a well-placed source who works closely with government told The EastAfrican on condition of anonymity.

In failing to address Rwanda’s prime concerns, South Africa is now seen by Kigali as indirectly supporting dissidents. “The communication (between the two countries) is not effective: They have failed to agree,” he said.

Rejected plea

While Pretoria has rejected Kigali’s plea to have its dissidents extradited because it does not trust Rwanda’s judicial system, Kigali maintains that the government should stop the dissidents from engaging “in illegal activities.”

Pretoria upholds the view that the expelled Rwandan diplomats are behind incidents of violence against exiled critics of President Kagame’s government.

Pretoria has been tight-lipped on the findings of investigations into the attacks and the killing of Mr Karegeya. (Read: South Africa urges speed in probe of Rwandan ex-spy's death)

However, the expulsion of the diplomats sends a signal that it suspects something about the attacks which have been interpreted as a “breach of South African sovereignty.”

Last week’s raid by armed men on a safe house accommodating Mr Nyamwasa — the third attempt on his life — appears to have been the last straw.

Justice Minister Radebe, who chairs the security cluster of cabinet ministers, this week said the move by his government was meant to send a strong signal to anybody wishing to use the country for illegal activities.

“We want to send a very stern warning to anybody anywhere in the world that our country will not be used as a springboard to illegal activities,” Mr Radebe reportedly said during a justice, crime prevention, and security cluster of ministries briefing in Cape Town.

Mr Radebe also spoke about the decision to declare the Rwanda diplomats persona non grata for violating their diplomatic immunities and privileges. One diplomat from Burundi was also expelled.

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